“A Couple Drawn Together” / Westender.com / Westender Staff / February 18, 2011

In the uneventful, latter half of February, gone are the fancy dinners, beautiful flowers and, for some, edible garments that comprise Valentine’s Day’s showy, ritual displays of affection. Those of us who are in love (to use a phrase which is, in any public context, admittedly obnoxious) will settle back into sharing quieter, everyday moments: buying groceries, taking public transit, gossiping about friends, family, and co-workers.

New Yorker cover artist Adrian Tomine’s charming, winning new book of comics, Scenes from an Impending Marriage, captures a couple in one of the rare phases that combines both romantic ritual as well as mundane organization and preparation: planning their wedding. What becomes abundantly clear is that the lion’s share of the love, intimacy, and humour is to be found in the humble day-to-day.

Like any good engagement, the book (published by Montreal-based imprint Drawn + Quarterly) is short (54 pages!) and sweet. In a series of multi-page, multi-panel comics — punctuated by occasional one-page/one-joke wonders that were described by a friend as “like Family Circus, but funny” — we watch Japanese-American Adrian and his Celtic-American fiancée, Sarah, as they book DJs, register for gifts, and navigate the politics of the guestlist.

The couple is self-consciously privileged, skeptical of the marital hullabaloo, but ultimately excited about a beautiful wedding. It’s this semi-detachment, the ironic distance between the couple and the traditions that they’re nevertheless indulging, that makes Scenes from an Impending Marriage such a success: at once cutting and sweet, world-weary but genuinely excited.

So we get the groom-to-be angrily dressing-down a potential DJ (a self-styled “musicologist”) on the subject of Bob Seger: “We do [like old-time rock and roll]! We just don’t like bombastic songs about old-time rock and roll!” Then sheepishly, in the next panel, he turns to his fiancée: “Right?” We get Sarah busily working out details for the big day over the phone while Adrian eats chips and watches The Wire. We also get her aiming a department store’s wedding registry scanner at her fiancé like a gun and demanding, (literally) point blank, that he choose between the “‘Grand Hotel’ flatware or the ‘Charlemagne.’” Adrian earnestly questions why he has to buy a $100 necktie, and can’t just wear the one he bought for Sarah’s grandmother’s funeral.

Eventually, they volunteer at a soup kitchen for AIDS patients and have their trivial worries thrown into sharp relief.

Adrian and Sarah also engage in negotiations that will be immediately recognizable to many Vancouverites: working with, and around, differences of “Cultural Heritage.” Adrian’s parents want Taiko drums at the reception, Sarah’s want bagpipes. In a particularly hilarious sequence (with one of the best punchlines in the book), Sarah gently accuses Adrian of only wanting to hire a particular florist because they are of Japanese descent. When he protests this assessment, she demands the names of his accountant, optometrist and dentist (who are, respectively, “Ken Takahashi,” “Peggy Ouchida,” and “Mariko Fujiwa”).

In the North American context, there is little or no widespread prejudice against relationships between white folks and East Asians. Even if no one wants to stop us from being together legally or socially, cultural differences linger. Usually it’s the stuff of minor frustration, the coal that makes comedy diamonds. More than three years into this reviewer’s interracial marriage, we’re still catching each other up on what it means to be Chinese, French-Canadian, or British. (Last year, I had to explain what a meatloaf is.)

Tomine’s gentle, probing insights on this score are one of the real triumphs of the work. Scenes from an Impending Marriage captures what stays exotic in a partner, and what quickly collapses into instant familiarity and everyday intimacy.

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